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Bonded Leather Blues

Posted by Lesandre on

Bonded leather (also known as faux leather, polyurethane or PU leather, bicast leather, blended leather, composite leather, recycled leather, reconstituted leather, or ultraleather) is a dirty word in our business. Every day we receive multiple emails and phone calls asking the same question:
Can I repair my flaking, peeling bonded leather?

The short answer is no. We even tested our Soft Filler and Flex Seal® in this video. 

To properly repair polyurethane or faux leather, you'd begin by applying a repair compound like our Soft Filler to create a new vinyl-like surface. This creates water repellency and reflects light similarly to the original material. 

Some folks have painstakingly stripped and scraped away the polyurethane coating and then painted the fabric with Flex Seal® or other flexible/elastic coatings. 

Painting the repair is the final step (and perhaps a coat of Clear Prep+Finish™ for more luster).

However, any repair compound or rubberized coating that overlaps the existing unstable polyurethane surface is likely to suffer the same fate. If the original polyurethane "skin" didn't stick to the material, why would anything else?

We have had several customers skip the repair compound and just use our colored paints and Clear Prep+Finish™ to create a more uniform appearance. That being said, Rub 'n Restore® products are not designed for fabrics and may slightly stiffen these materials. And then you're into the realm of fabric paint and you no longer have a leather-like material. 

Why are we an authority on the subject? We're a mother-daughter business with 40 years' experience as leather and vinyl repair professionals. More info here and here.

What is bonded leather? 

This cheap synthetic is made by mixing ground scrap leather with a resin to create a fabric base fabric which is then coated with a polyurethane "skin". This coating flakes or peels away after just 18 months of normal use or exposure to sun, revealing the woven mesh, fabric, or microfiber substrate. The industry calls this "hydrolysis-related failure". 

Even the best polyurethane resins for commercial use are only expected to last 7 years. See hereThey're touted as being more eco-friendly to produce than vinyl (PVC), but the ethos of disposability has proven to be anything but green. 

Cracking, flaking red bonded leather with faux suede substrate

Why are consumers misled about bonded leather? 

There is no regulation for use of the term leather” in the United States and Canada. The Chinese lobbies carry too much weight, contrary to places like New Zealand where it is illegal to mislead consumers into buying the real thing. Bonded leather can't compete with vinyl (PVC) let alone genuine animal hide, yet it is more common than its authentic counterpart. It is all you'll find at big box stores, and it is the affordable (i.e. cheap) option at many retailers. The irony is that the United States military spends billions each year defending petroleum interests, while much of the world's oil reserves are being converted into shoddy furniture that degrades before our boys can return home to enjoy it! Congress, here's an opportunity to enact a decent law for a change!

Our Solution? 

If you suffer from the bonded leather blues, find a used genuine leather piece on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or an estate sale, and restore it. Real skin is quite costly, and manufacturers don't put real skin on cheap bones. Folks don't know how easy it is to repair and restore real leather. High quality pieces can often be found for a couple hundred bucks. Indeed, we got this piece for free!

Genuine aniline leather with body oil stains

Look for aniline or semi-aniline leather. Its more natural and absorbent finish lends to unsightly body oil or water stains that are impossible to clean. This makes for an affordable price tag, as professionals charge upward of $1,200 to extract the oil, seal, and stain the leather.

Most people don't know genuine leather can be easily restored with our unique water-based coatings. Spend another $50-$100 on some Rub ’n Restore®, and you’ll have that luxurious furniture for which you’ve been lusting. It will probably last you 20 years, and your bonded leather blues will be only a memory!

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